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From sex abuse to graft: new pope faces old challenges


Newly-elected Pope Francis has his work cut out as he faces rapidly-dwindling western congregations, a Church that many believe is in urgent need of reform and beset with sex abuse scandals.


Pope Francis, formerly archbishop of Buenos Aires, is the first Jesuit pope and first non-European since the Middle Ages to become head of the Roman Catholic Church. The former Argentine Cardinal, Jorge MarioBergoglio, takes the helm at a time of crisis for the Church.

FRANCE24 takes a closer look at the challenges facing Pope Francis:

Church governance and reforming the Curia

Reform of the Curia, the Catholic Church’s Vatican-based administrative body, is one of the most important tasks facing the new pope. Amid accusations of financial corruption, the covering up of sexual impropriety, infighting and the so-called “Vatileaks” scandal, the Curia is also in the red, posting a deficit of 15 million euros in 2011. The body is considered by many Catholics outside Europe of being too Roman and thus needs to better reflect the diversity of the Catholic community.

Breathing new life into the Church

Congregations are shrinking in Europe, where the Catholic Church’s unwavering stance on issues such as gay marriage, abortion and contraception has alienated it from much of public opinion, especially amongst the young. In Latin America, the home of around 40 per cent of the world’s Catholics, protestant evangelical movements are making headway specifically in Brazil. Benedict XVI had planned a trip to Brazil in the summer of 2013 before he announced his retirement. This could be a key visit for the Argentine pope.

Paedophilia and sex scandals

Since 2000 the Catholic Church has been rocked by a succession of sex abuse scandals and accusations of institutional cover-ups to protect the priests involved. While little was achieved under Pope John Paul II, in 2010 the Vatican published a decree requiring church officials to report such offences to the police, with Pope Benedict XVI referring to the “unspeakable crimes” of paedophile priests.

Many victims felt the decree did not go far enough. A spokesman for a French victims’ group told Le Parisien on Thursday: “Benedict XVI made some big declarations, but these have not been followed through with any action or concrete measures.”

Interfaith tensions

Relations between the Catholic Church and Islam have been tense since Benedict XVI, in a speech at Regensburg in 2006, referred to a 14th-century Byzantine emperor who labelled the Prophet Muhammad "evil and inhuman".

Pope Francis will be challenged to improve these relations, although this will be a delicate task.

Pail Matar, Archbishop of Beirut, told FRANCE 24 that the pope was the right man to build bridges with other faiths.

“The fact that he is a Jesuit means that he has the character of a missionary, which can only be positive in this respect,” he said.

Celebrations in St Peter's Square after the election of Pope Francis
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